PULLMAN – A second fire in three days at a nursing home may be just bad luck, say police and fire officials.
About 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, firefighters were called to the Avalon Care Center in northern Pullman, where a small blaze had been sparked in a resident’s room. According to Capt. Eric Reiber, the fire was out within a few minutes and the resident was unharmed.
Fire officials say Wednesday’s fire was almost certainly not arson. It was started on a furniture stand with combustible material that had been left near a baseboard wall heater.
Just a few days earlier, local officers responded to a suspected arson in an office at the facility. Early the next morning, they were called to what became an 11-hour standoff with a care center employee threatening to take his own life.
The first fire, which was started in a trash can at about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, was quickly extinguished by the center’s sprinklers. On Monday, officers were questioning employees when registered nurse Wayne E. Ketchum was discovered holed up in his truck in a small parking lot behind the center’s kitchen wing. He told police he had two guns and had no intentions of harming anyone but himself. The standoff ended peacefully at 1 p.m. Monday when negotiators convinced Ketchum, 56, to surrender.
Ketchum, an Idaho resident, was booked into the Whitman County Jail on suspicion of first-degree arson and second-degree malicious mischief. He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday.
Avalon Vice President Faye Lincoln said that all the sprinklers and alarms at the center worked as they should Wednesday, just as they did Sunday. This time because the fire was in a room, the residents were moved for their safety, she said.
She also echoed the police in saying that a second fire happening the same week was coincidence. “It does happen,” she said. “The most important thing is that everybody is safe.”
Avalon Care Center, which was formerly the Palouse Hills Nursing Home, is a 40-bed licensed long-term care facility with about 20 residents. The facility is a subsidiary of Avalon Health Care, a corporation headquartered in Salt Lake City. The company has eight residential care facilities in Washington. The Avalon center in Pullman has a new director, Mark Michaels, who has been on the job for just a few weeks.
The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services has already opened an investigation into the incidents at the center Sunday and Monday, and is planning on opening another investigation into the fire Wednesday, said Shirlee Steiner, DSHS’s Spokane-based regional administrator for residential care services.
In 2003, shortly after Avalon took ownership, the facility was fully inspected by DSHS and received 19 citations for problems. Only two problems were cited as causing harm to patients. In one case patients weren’t getting proper care for bladder infections and/or edema. In the other, patients with eating and ambulation problems didn’t get their food and movement needs met. The most recent complaint at the facility was filed in March of this year and resulted in two citations, both regarding quality of care, but neither of which included harm to the patients.
This week’s incidents will prompt further examinations of the facility to ensure residents’ safety and health, said Steiner.
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